Lou DiDonato is the general manager and head mixologist at Grapperia, the “grappa” centric Italian cocktail bar in Lawrenceville. If you’re not familiar with grappa, it’s an Italian brandy that comes from the pomace of grapes used in wine making. Lou, along with owner Domenic Branduzzi and one of the best bar staffs in Pittsburgh, has worked to curate a bar that is unique to both Pittsburgh and to the country. In fact, Playboy recently named Grapperia one of the Top 50 Bars in America. Tucked behind Piccolo Forno just off Butler Street in a cozy and comfortable setting, the bar classico is getting a lot of attention for unique grappa-infused cocktails like Above the Clouds, a rhubarb grappa old fashioned. They also serve a full selection of cocktails, wine and craft beers.

In addition to his creative cocktail work at Grapperia, Lou helps other businesses create bar programs through his consulting company, SLC/PGH Bar Consultants: “Right now I’m working on a cafe and six pack shop called Friendship Perk and Brew, and nothing feels better than to know I’m helping this brother and sister team make opening a restaurant happen.”

So what’s the best meal he ate last week?

My wife and I had family in town and when you’re married to a Tambellini there is only one person that you go see: Cousin Joey. That’s right, Joseph Tambellini’s in Highland Park. My brother-in-law and my wife’s uncle wouldn’t have it any other way.

So we get to the restaurant after a day of enjoying drinks watching the Steelers play. Suffice it to say we were pretty hungry. Joe had a table all set up for us on the second floor. We sat down and got right back up because the man, Joe Tambellini, showed up. After we got all of the hugs and ‘how ya doings’ out of the way, Joey sat down and said, ‘Well what are you guys in the mood for?’ We all looked at each other and asked Joe to just cook for us. He quickly replied, ‘I’ll send some things up’ and that’s when I got really excited. 

Joe sent up some antipasti which consisted of the sesame calamari, meatballs and Joe’s famous beans and greens. Along with this, we had a couple of great bottles of Barolo that my brother-in-law and my wife’s uncle picked out. Listen, if you haven’t had the beans and greens or the meatballs at Joseph Tambellini’s I ask you please . . . put it on your bucket list. You will thank me later.

Next up Joey sent up two HUGE salads to get us ready for the smorgasbord of food that was to follow. After putting those away, the entrees started coming up two at a time. 

First two plates of red sauce pasta that are the size of the table. There’s something about family-style pastas that make family getting together so much better. We start diving into these great pastas and famous meatballs that Joe made. Not to mention another bottle of wine. I’m pretty sure that’s when the stories started flying and the laughing got a little louder. 

The servers start coming up with the main courses. You would think that this was our last meal. All of a sudden up comes Chicken Marsala that we instantly start passing around. Before that makes it around the table, salmon and roasted pork tenderloin arrive. It was all amazing. When I say that this was the best meal I had last week I can say it was also up there with the best meal I had this year.

Tom O'Connor

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.